An Aussie gardening enthusiast has been left stunned by an incredible discovery in her yard, describing the colourful scenes as "unbelievable".
The NSW woman spotted a large bunch of striped ladybeetles huddled together on tree leaves and branches in the garden of her Bingara home, a small town in the state's north.
"Striped Lady Beetles huddling for winter," she wrote on a hobbyist entomology page on Facebook this week. "The numbers that reside at the old pepper tree are unbelievable! Beneficial I am hoping".
Are these colourful beetles harmful to gardens?
Dr Ken Walker, a senior curator of entomology at Museums Victoria, said these colourful beetles (Micraspis frenata) — also known as ladybirds in the US — are "a natural spray can in the garden". This means they're great to have.
"The larvae and most adults eat garden pests such as aphids, scale insects, whiteflies and mites. Estimates put the number of pests eaten as high as 2500 per ladybeetle," he told Yahoo News Australia. "Australia has about 500 species of ladybeetles."
'The world is a better place with ladybeetles'
These black and yellow beetles mainly appear on grasses along the east coast of the country and help to clean the leaves. "Anything, such as fungus covering the leaf, would reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the plant, which would reduce the amount of photosynthesis available to the plant," Dr Walker explained.
The beetles are "definitely a benefit to the grasses" and "the world is a better place with ladybeetles," said Dr Walker.
"In general, we estimate only about 1% of insects are detrimental or dangerous to humans, and the rest all are helpful in many ways — such as food sources for other animals, pollination or decomposition."
The reason why beetles group together
Seeing the beetles in large amounts isn't uncommon either. They do so to scare off predators that might harm them in the wild.
The striped ladybeetle has a light orange colour on its back (called the elytra) with 3 black stripes running vertically down the back. In nature, bright colours generally are warning colours suggesting to predators that the prey is dangerous in some way — either it can sting or taste bad.
"The best way to advertise this danger is to clump together and display these warning colours en mass, rather than sitting as individuals where the effect would not be as great," Dr Walker explained.
They also feed off pollen and nectar which provides a good source of protein and carbs.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.